UMass is -- by far -- the town's largest employer
I received the following press release last night from UMass Grad Student Matthew Cunningham-Cook regarding the Only In Amherst minimum wage hike to $15/hour warrant article Town Meeting will vote on March 19 (if they get a quorum).
According to Mr. Cunningham-Cook the bylaw, unlike most town ordinances, is a "home rule petition" that further requires State Legislature approval so it would then apply to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the #1 employer in town.
Mr Cunningham-Cook is a contestant for Town Meeting but since the local town election is a week after the Special Town Meeting, he will not be able to support it on the floor of Town Meeting.
It will be interesting to see if he can find a single business owner in town who would agree that student workers with "more money in their pockets" would translate into more business. As it would take a tremendous boost in business to offset the steep increase in overhead brought on by the new increase in the cost of labor.
For most small businesses, the #1 overhead cost is labor.
AMHERST, MA-- The Student Labor Action Project at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst is launching a multifaceted campaign to end poverty through higher wages.
Amherst's poverty rate is 20.2%: overwhelmingly composed of students, as only 7.2% of families in Amherst are below the poverty line. At the same time, UMass is a huge employer, with nearly all of the university's 21,000 undergraduate students working on campus in one capacity or another.
Almost all work for less than $10/hour-- nowhere near enough to afford the cost of living in Amherst, where rents for a room frequently exceed $800/month.
Nationwide, fast food workers have gone on strike for a minimum wage of $15/hour. Sea-Tac, Washington just passed a ballot initiative mandating a minimum wage of $15/hour, and activists in Seattle are organizing to put an initiative on the 2014 ballot there as well.
SLAP is planning to replicate these successes here in Amherst, where the poverty rate has reached crisis levels, all while bloated administrative salaries extract funds out of the pockets of student workers and contribute significantly to the gentrification of the Pioneer Valley. (Men's basketball coach Derek Kellogg tops the list at $719,664. All told, 224 UMass employees make more than $200,000 per year.)
Our campaign has begun by collecting the requisite signatures to call a Special Town Meeting for a home rule petition to the legislature which would grant the Town of Amherst the power to implement a minimum wage of $15 per hour.
We are also launching an aggressive pressure campaign to make UMass may pay the $15 an hour minimum wage in the event that that the home rule petition fails to pass the legislature.
We are calling for inclusive language including the entire Town of Amherst because 1) small businesses in the Town will gain a massive source of new revenue were UMass' undergraduate student workers to have 50% more money in their pocket, and 2) we believe all employers should be held to the same standard of providing a living wage, which only $15/hour can achieve.
Given that UMass has 21,000 undergraduates with Amherst's population at 37,000, the overwhelming majority of low-wage employees are employed by UMass.
The Special Town Meeting has been called by the Select Board for March 19 at 7 PM for the Middle School Auditorium. We encourage all supporters to attend.
Amherst is a microcosm of the global trend of increasing wealth inequality, which the United Nations Development Program recently said "can undermine the very foundations of development and social and domestic peace."
UMass SLAP is a joint project of Jobs with Justice and the United States Student Association. Most of us work low-wage jobs on the UMass campus. This campaign is also supported by the Amherst Area Workers Rights Committee.